The money tree plant inspires visions of infinite wealth. But we all know that money doesn’t grow on trees… right?
Let me introduce you to the Pachira. Also called Malabar Chestnut or saba nut, among other names, it’s often called money tree.
Believed to bring good luck, multi-trunked money trees are often carefully braided while young. These braided bases can be stunning in an indoor setting.
Pachira is important to those who practice feng shui. The number five is important to practitioners as it represents the elements. Money tree often produces five leaves per stem, and it’s beautiful. This is why it’s beloved among other house plants.
But there’s a lot to know about the money tree, a member of the mallow family! Let’s get right into everything you’ll need to know about money trees and how to care for them.
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name||Money tree plant, money plant, Malabar chestnut, Guiana chestnut, French peanut, saba nut, monguba, pumpo, provision tree, wild kapok tree, pachira|
|Scientific Name||Pachira aquatica (formerly Bombax glabrum)|
|Family||Malvaceae, or the Mallow Family|
|Height and Spread||6-8 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide; much larger in the wild, at 20-30 feet tall and wide|
|Light||Bright, indirect light; direct light causes scorching|
|Soil||Well-draining loamy soil preferred, but can tolerate multiple soils|
|Water||Indoors, heavy watering three times a month to weekly. Outdoors, heavy watering when the soil is dry three inches below the soil surface.|
|Pests and Diseases||Aphids, mealybugs, other soft scale insects, fungus gnats, Anthracnose, powdery mildew, some types of root rot|
History of the Money Tree Plant
It’s said that a penniless farmer once prayed for assistance. Soon afterward, he discovered a new plant growing in his fields. After bringing one into his home, he began experiencing a change of fortune.
Whether or not this old tale is true, it’s true that the money tree is believed to bring good fortune and positive energy. With a native habitat in the wetlands of Central and South America, the money tree began to gain popularity in the 1980s.
That’s when a truck driver in Taiwan first braided its trunks together. His claim is that these braided money trees would “lock in” or bring good luck and good fortune.
Braiding of the trunks can be a little complex. It must be done when money trees are young and pliable. Once part of the trunks are braided, they will continue to grow that way.
While an occasional stray branch might need to be trained again, it’s good for more than just braids. Bonsai money trees are very popular, as well.
As I said earlier, feng shui practitioners make use of money tree plants. When placed properly, money trees are believed to create positive “chi” or energy. They’ve become popular plants in the workplace as a result.
Japanese money tree owners often adorn their plants with ornaments and ribbons. Red is the dominant color used, which looks striking against the deep green leaves.
And there’s a certain amount of truth in the Pachira’s ability to bring good fortune. In 2005, money tree added $7 million dollars to Taiwan’s agricultural export economy. The trees themselves can become quite valuable, especially older braided money tree specimens!
Planting the Money Tree Plant
It doesn’t take much to get money tree started, especially if there’s a source for braided money trees near you. A little soil, some humidity, and a steady warm temperature will get them going. But here’s a few things to keep in mind while you’re planting pachira!
When to Plant
If you’re in USDA zones 10-12, you can plant a money tree outdoors once temperatures stay above 45 degrees at night. Money tree plant prefers temperatures of 65-75 degrees, and is cold-hardy to about 45.
People who aren’t in zones 10-11 (and some parts of 9) may want to keep their money tree plants indoors year-round. If so, you can get started anytime. Remember that the money tree plant’s active growing season is from spring through summer.
Where to Plant
Indoor growers should find a slightly-humid spot with indirect sunlight. This is about perfect for the money tree plant to thrive.
Outdoor growers who’re trying for a full-sized tree need to mimic wetlands. Your plant prefers swampy areas next to streams or rivers. If you can’t provide a stream or river, select an area that gets lots of water but occasionally dries out. Mixed sun and shade is best.
Choose a site that is shielded from heavy winds.
How to Plant
I’ll go into more on this in the propagation segment, but money tree can be grown from seed or cuttings.
If you’re planting a money tree seed, plant it about 1/4″ deep in moist soil. Be sure the pale “eye” on the seed faces sideways.
Planting directly in the ground? Start by amending your soil to the right blend. Once your soil is prepared, you can plant it at the same height it was at in its pot.
Money Tree Plant Care and Cultivation
Pachira aquatica (money tree) care is easy. The leaves will indicate what it needs and what you should change in your care regimen.
Light and Temperature
Shady areas or windows with indirect light keep this plant happy. If the leaves begin to yellow, find a sunnier place. While it can tolerate some full sunlight, too much will burn the leaves.
If grown indoors, pay close attention to the health of your money tree plant. Change its location as needed throughout the year. Be sure to give it a 45-degree turn every so often so all its leaves have access to at least indirect light.
Outdoor money tree growers will find that as their tree reaches its full height, it can tolerate more sun. A little shade during the hottest part of the day would be good. Some leaves may scorch on the top of the tree in direct sunlight, but the lower leaves will be partially shielded.
The ideal temperature for money tree plants is between 50-90 degrees. It can tolerate temperatures down to 45 without any severe damage. Too much cold causes leaf dropping.
Money tree plants that experience colder temps (28-40) for a few hours should still be savable. Bring it back into an environment that’s at least 50 degrees. Provide humidity around the plant until it starts to perk up, but don’t water heavily while it’s in cold shock.
Water and Humidity
Money tree watering takes a little finesse. The plant loves lots of water but can also suffer from over-watering issues and diseases like root rot.
In its native habitat of Central and South America, it grows in areas that receive large amounts of water but then dry out. Your best bet is to simulate that. Provide a lot of water all at once, and then let the soil dry out.
In most indoor environments, you’ll do a heavy watering of your money tree about three times a month. If it’s a dry environment, it may be weekly. As long as the soil moisture is consistent, it’ll be fine with that schedule.
Outdoors, it’s easiest to check the soil around the plant’s base. If it’s dry three inches down, it’s time to do a heavy watering again.
The money tree plant loves ambient humidity. Indoors, that’s easy to provide with a good plant humidifier. You may also find that placing its pot on a tray of pebbles and water will give it good humidity. Avoid allowing the pot to touch the water’s surface.
Too much watering can cause leaf-dropping, just like cold conditions can. It seems counter-intuitive to avoid watering when the leaves start to drop, but do it!
In the fall and winter, when active growth slows, you’ll need to water your money tree even less. Maintain a good warmth around your plant and ensure it has humidity, of course. You may find it’ll only need water twice a month in this cooler season.
Money trees can grow in many soil types. The primary need is soil that can drain off excess water with ease.
Clay-like soils tend to become oversaturated and muddy. If your soil is clay-like, it’s best to amend it with lots of organic material or peat. Adding perlite will also help drainage, along with adequate drainage holes in container planted trees. Potted trees need a well-draining potting mix.
An ideal soil blend for your money tree plant is peaty, loamy soil. It can have some sand content as well with no problem. While they can tolerate flooding in the wild for short times, it must drain quickly.
Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.5, on the neutral range. They can tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils, but won’t have their best growth in those ranges.
In the spring months, it’s best to opt for a high-nitrogen fertilizer. A 12-6-6 gives ample fertilizer for the plant’s spring growth.
Once summer sets in, you can switch to a balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10. As fall approaches, reduce the nitrogen quantity, dropping it to around 3-10-10. This encourages healthy root systems, and the potassium aids with flowering too.
Your goal should be to spread out the appropriate seasonal nutrition over a month’s time. You can dilute a liquid fertilizer to make quarter strength and fertilize weekly. Alternately, dilute by half and fertilize every two weeks.
Since you don’t want to overwater your plant, it’s best to modify one of your scheduled waterings. Give the plant about half the water you normally would, then fertilize.
Opting to use slow-release granular fertilizers? If so, water as you usually would, but be sure you’ve worked the fertilizer into the soil’s surface first.
Skip fertilizing in the winter months. Your plant won’t need it because it won’t develop any new growth at this time.
Propagation From Cuttings
Unlike many other cuttings, it’s best not to root your Pachira aquatica in water. Use a rooting medium instead. Construction sand, a 50/50 blend of peat moss and sand, or a 50/50 blend of peat moss and perlite will work.
Begin by selecting a healthy branch from which to take your cutting. You’ll want at least a six-inch piece with healthy leaves and 2-3 leaf nodes. Try to prepare your cutting in the morning when the temperature is cool.
Make your cut using sterilized pruning shears to prevent any potential disease spread. If you cannot immediately plant your cutting, wrap it in a dampened paper towel. Place it inside a plastic bag to keep it moist and viable for up to 24 hours.
Remove any leaves from the bottom third of your cutting, then dip it into water to dampen it. Shake off any excess droplets, then dip it into powdered rooting hormone.
Use a pencil to make an indentation in your rooting medium. You’ll want to place the bottom third of your cutting into the medium. Take your cutting and carefully put it in place in the indentation.
Water your cutting, then place a plastic bag over your future plant. I recommend using a chopstick or short stake to keep the bag from pressing on the top of the cutting. This plastic bag will increase the humidity around the cutting.
Keep the rooting medium moist, but not soggy. If there’s no condensation on the inside of the plastic, it probably needs to be watered. Keep it out of direct sunlight, and 4-6 weeks later it should have developed roots and new growth.
Propagation From Seed
To propagate money tree plant from seed, you’ll need the seeds. These are best harvested right as an older plant’s seed pods have dried and are starting to crack open. The nut-like seeds should be thoroughly inspected and damaged ones discarded.
Prepare your containers. Each seed will need its own 6-8 inch pot. Be sure the pot has drainage holes. Mix a well-draining potting mix via five parts of potting soil with two parts coarse sand and 1 part perlite. Fill the pots, then water them to completely saturate the soil.
Once excess water has drained off (which will take at least 15 minutes), it’s time to plant your seeds. Look at the seeds. There will be a pale spot on one end, which is referred to as the “eye”.
Place your seeds about 1/4″ deep with the eye pointed sideways. Lightly water the seed to settle the soil overtop, and add more soil if necessary.
Your money trees need warm soil to propagate. I like to use a seedling starting mat that can warm the soil to 80 degrees. You should keep your plant in bright, indirect light as well.
When the top inch of soil dries out, water again. The warmth of a seedling mat may cause your soil to lose water faster, so it’s best to check daily.
Once you see new growth coming up, remove your plant from the seedling mat. Avoid splashing water onto the seedling plants, but be sure to keep the soil moist as your plant develops.
Keep your young plants under bright, indirect sunlight for the first growing season. You can then harden your plants off to move them outdoors or transplant them to their permanent pots.
Begin the repotting process by picking a new pot. You’ll want one no larger than 1-2″ bigger than the plant’s existing pot. If your pots have large drainage holes in the bottom, place something over it to prevent soil from spilling out.
Water your money tree in its existing pot, and wait about an hour before transplanting. This allows the soil to absorb moisture and excess to drain away.
Place a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the new pot. Then, gently remove money trees from their old pots, keeping the soil and root mass intact. Set them into the new pot, checking the depth. You want your money trees to be about 1″ below each pot’s rim.
If necessary, add more potting soil to raise the plant to 1″ below the rim. Then, with the plant in place, fill in the soil line around the outside of the plant. Press the soil in to firm it in place, but don’t compact it down to avoid root rot.
Water in the plant. If necessary, add additional soil to fill in anything that sinks when it’s watered into place.
Don’t be surprised if your plant lets go of a few leaves in the process. They don’t like being moved from their comfy containers. (I feel much the same about my bed. And my recliner.)
Pruning and Training
Full-sized outdoor plants should be pruned to remove dead stems. Other than that, the only pruning necessary will be to control its size. You can cut off a couple of the oldest and tallest stems in the fall if necessary for size control.
Indoor plants rarely need pruning because so many are braided. But braiding itself can be a bit complex. You will need a very young plant with at least three flexible stems to plait together.
Gently braid them together. Avoid forcing the plant to braid or damaging the stems. If it won’t all braid together in one day, use twine to secure the plant in place until it relaxes into that shape. Then you can braid it further up the stems.
You can also use wire to train your plant to a bonsai form. Bonsai can be quite complex, but over time you can train it to grow in miniature size. The wires stabilize and direct the growth of the plant into a certain pattern.
If growing bonsai money trees, you will also need to prune more regularly. This keeps the young buds in check. It also encourages the plant to develop leaves where you want them to be.
Wait, harvesting? From money trees? These don’t actually put out dollar bill seed pods, do they?
Well, no. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they did, though? They do develop seed pods that pop open when the seeds within get big enough.
Once the seed pods have dried, they will start to burst open to release the seed. It’s important to leave them in place until they start to pop on their own!
Place landscape fabric around the base of your plant to catch the seeds when they start to fall. Check daily for a supply of the seeds once the pods start to pop open.
Pachira seeds can be roasted, fried, or eaten raw. They’re said to taste like peanuts when raw, and more like chestnuts when cooked. They also make a good bread flour when ground.
Research on the effects of these seeds on humans is still underway. While they’re commonly called saba nuts or Malabar chestnut, they may or may not be safe. There’s some concern about the levels of cyclopropenoid fatty acids in the seeds.
While many people have consumed these seeds with no ill effect, it’s never a bad idea to be cautious. Sample them in limited quantities first and make sure you have no ill effects from eating them!
Troubleshooting Money Trees
Now that we’ve discussed money tree plant care, let’s talk about potential issues that can arise. While this plant is pretty hardy against most bugs and diseases, there are a few that could become problems. Here’s what to do about each issue!
Most of the growing issues that appear during the process of money tree plant care are leaf-related. Let’s go over a few of those now!
Yellowing leaves are a symptom of one of two potential problems. Too little humidity around your plant’s the most common culprit. A fertilizer deficiency is another possibility, but usually it’s humidity-related.
Similarly, brown and crisp leaves are a definite sign of under-watering. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist!
Drooping green leaves are usually a sign of too much water. Reducing the watering frequency is one way to repair this. Another option is to ensure the soil will drain off excess water well by amending it.
Leaf spotting may be a sign of potassium deficiency. Check your fertilizer labels and increase the potassium a bit to try to remedy this issue.
Mold on the soil surface may indicate you’re over-watering. Cut down on the watering frequency to prevent mold growth and avoid root rot.
Awful aphids are sap-sucking insects that can reproduce at a fast rate. These little pests are tiny, but they can do large damage. Most often they will cause leaves to go limp and eventually drop off.
White or brown mealybugs and other soft scale insects may also attack your plant. These cluster under leaves or on stems, and they too cause sucking damage.
Regular applications of neem oil will repel aphids, scale and mealybugs. For large amounts of aphids, you may be able to wash them off with a pressurized water spray. Scale insects can also be loosened with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Fungus gnats may also move in. The fungus gnat larvae can cause chewing damage to your money plant’s roots. Adults are annoying little flying pests in the house. Controlling these helps you avoid root rot too.
To keep them at bay, allow your plant’s soil to dry out between waterings. The larvae prefer constantly moist or wet soil, and will not thrive when the soil starts to dry out. Neem oil sprayed on the soil’s surface and the plant can help keep adults away.
Anthracnose is a possible disease of pachira aquatica. Whether it’s leaf spotting, blights, or other issues, it weakens your plant.
Preventing anthracnose can be done in a few steps. Keep your plant’s leaves dry while watering. Remove diseased leaves or ones which show signs of brown, patchy spots. And, if necessary, use a copper fungicide to clear up the anthracnose.
Soggy soil for too long can promote the development of root rot. Usually fungal in origin, these rots will cause your plant to lose leaves, wilt, and turn yellow. Over time, they can spread to kill off your plant.
Preventing root rot is surprisingly easy. Ensure your growing medium drains off excess water well. It can remain moist, but it shouldn’t be soggy or muddy.
Finally, white powdery mildew can develop on leaves. This is also fungal in origin, but is easy to treat!
Spray an even coat of neem oil on the leaves, both top and bottom. This prevents mildew development as well as killing off existing mildew.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What other names does money tree plant have?
A: Other than money tree, this plant’s got lots of names! Here’s a short list of them:
Money plant, Malabar chestnut, Guiana chestnut, French peanut, saba nut, monguba, pumpo, provision tree, wild kapok tree, Pachira, Pachira aquatica, and Bombax glabrum.
Q: Is it a small plant or a large one?
A: Pachira aquatica can be miniaturized, small, medium, large, or gigantic. It all depends on how you want to grow it!
In their native environment, these trees can reach up to 60 feet tall. Unless you’re in zones 10-12, and maybe parts of zone 9, you’ll want to opt for something you can move indoors when it’s cold. That tends to limit the size you can grow.
I’ve seen money plants that were only a couple feet tall, or ones that were 9-10 feet tall. The size is up to you!
Q: Which form should I grow, bonsai or full size?
A: There are many factors to take into account while growing the money plant. Do you prefer larger or smaller plants? Are you growing indoors or outdoors? Are you growing to harvest saba nuts, or just to enjoy the plant?
Bonsai techniques take years to master. If you already know how to bonsai, you can cultivate your own. If you’re not familiar with the process, it may be best to buy one already trained to miniature size. But you’ll still need to occasionally pinch or trim it to shape.
A smaller, braided tree may be easier for someone who doesn’t have the finesse to deal with bonsai pruning. These can be grown indoors or out.
And finally, if you want a large plant, growing an outdoor tree is definitely an option. Be sure you don’t get freezing conditions in your area before picking one up. Remember, they aren’t tolerant of extreme cold!